Last night I got a chance to take in my third Michigan Basketball game this season. As I did the first two times, I wanted to share my thoughts from the game...but more importantly, I wanted to get everyone else's take on this team.
From the first game I saw Michigan (vs. WVU in the Barclays Center) until now...the improvement is pretty drastic.
I took some caveats into this game.
1. This is the 2nd time we've played this team
2. The first time we played this team we beat them like they were Pioneer High School
3. We've got the #3 team in the country coming up next
4. They're going to be playing their asses off so they don't get embarrassed again
5. Jordan Morgan is out
With those in mind, I thought we played one of our best games of the year. As many have seen me write 1,000 times...I don't care if the ball goes in, I just want to see us execute. Same held true for tonight...we were going to win, so lets execute and play our game.
Boy did we. If anyone doesn't know how to play basketball...cut on the first 9 minutes of that game and watch the guys in white. We even made mistakes (Burke and Stauskas both got backdoored), but they were mistakes because we were trying to make a play (neither was because the guy fell asleep). The whole game was beauty, but the first 9 minutes was art.
I haven't seen a team click like we can click since UNC in '05 (33-4) and UNC in '09 (34-4)...sidenote those teams were led by Raymon Felton and Ty Lawson. Trey Burke is right there. Scott Van Pelt has a saying "how good is your good?" I've seen Michigan, Louisville and Duke all play live. Our good might be 10 points better than both.
Before I get into the individual stuff, I'll say this. If you're scouting us. There's only one way to stay close...PRESSURE. You better pressure the hell out of us. And with that, we're getting better, because Illinois tried that and we responded better than we have all year. Still, it's the only way. Pressure and hope the refs aren't calling a tight game.
The reason we've gotten better since that WVU game...defense. Everyone has seen that and know that so I won't even get into it. We were an average defensive team. We're not a good defensive team that is great at times. I can't fathom us being a great defense that is elite at times.
Morgan - Obviously injured, in a boot...seen coaching Horford during timeouts. Insert "shoe is on the other foot" joke since Horford has a history of injury. Morgan was called the "glue" by Coach B, especially on defense. You can see that at times, but it's harder because GRIII and Stauskas have improved greatly on the defensive end and Burke has flipped the switch.
Horford - This kid can play. Smart. Has post moves and just understand the game of basketball. We don't have a player on our team that doesn't understand the game...time and possession...understand the moment. Horford is no exception. Happy for him too! Horford played well vs. bigger bodies at NW.
GRIII - WAAAAY more athletic than I thought. He can really take you off the dribble if he can get you on his hip. He's certainly a SF at the next level and he may be the most gifted player on the team. Scary thought. He played very well vs. NW, but he didn't have any comp. I want to see him go up against a CJ Leslie type again, I think it would be a little different the next time around.
Stauskas - Maturity. It's noticeable how he's settled back into his role. I felt like his celebrity was going to be an issue. He's back to getting his from the flow of the offense. Welcome to the B1G. He's played back-to-back GREAT games. However, what I noticed the most was him on the defensive end. He's MUCH better. I took heat for it, but he was almost awful for much of the year. He'd give you 15 and give up 12. He's gotten so much better. Even in his stance, his help side, his communication, his EFFORT. Everything. He's now an average defender. Do I trust him guarding a big time wing? No. But he's not a liability. He's grown tremendously over the past couple of months. From YELLING at his own teammates for turnovers he made to boxing out a post who'd gotten around Horford. Big Time.
THJ - Best all around player in the country. Yep. I said it. Inside, outside, offense, defense, he's the best all around player in the country. Brandon Roy and Evan Turner come to mind.
Burke - Best player in the country. Yep. I said it. I've seen him 3 times now. The first 2 times, it was a debate. During the 2nd half of the Purdue game something clicked and he started playing defense as hard as he plays O. When that happened the debate was “undebatable.”
McGary - Seemed lost vs. Illinois, played a lot better vs. Northwestern. Love his hustle, love that he runs down the court even if it's halftime. Hope he doesn't hit a freshman wall *knocking on wood* because we need his role.
Albrecht - Another coach on the floor, calm, a leader. Needs to continue to get better so we can play both he and Trey at the same time vs. pressure teams like OSU, MSU and down the road...Duke, Louisville, etc.
All in all, we're the #1 team in the country. I think we play the 2nd best team on Saturday. Just remember, no matter the outcome, tournament games aren't played in Bloomington, IN.